Fresh twists for TV game shows are hard to come by. After all these years, hasn’t everything been done already?
But Separation Anxiety, premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday on TBS, has a new wrinkle that’s a doozy.
Contestants think they’re competing on a low-budget Internet game show that offers a top prize of $2,500. But Separation Anxiety, the actual game show they’ve unwittingly signed up for, has much higher stakes.
Here, contestants are playing for a cool quarter of a million bucks.
“You don’t see a twist like this in any other game show,” says Iliza Shlesinger, the Dallas comedian who serves as host. “All of the game shows I’ve ever seen are pretty straightforward when it comes to prizes. But this one brilliant twist changes everything.”
Imagine how much bolder you would be in an all-or-nothing game if you thought you were answering a $1,000 question. Imagine how cautious you would become, and how nervous, if you knew the question was really worth $100,000.
The “separation” part of Separation Anxiety is that members of a two-person team are split up. The “anxiety” part is that one player sweats bullets, aware of everything that’s at risk, while the other blissfully believes he’s playing for peanuts.
“That’s the real hook of the show, the fact that one person has no idea while the other knows everything,” Shlesinger says. “Watching the stress in the person who knows is what makes the show so delightful.”
Iliza Shlesinger won NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008.
Shlesinger gained a national following for her brand of observational and relationship comedy after winning NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008.
She has a lot on her schedule these days. She’s preparing to film her third stand-up special for Netflix. She has a Web series launching on ABC’s new digital platform in May. She’s writing a book that will be out in 2017.
The funny lady says she never imagined adding “game show host” to the résumé.
“But when the production group 5x5 Media said, ‘We want you for your comedic voice,’ and they said I can make it my own, that was a strong incentive,” she says. “What also turned me on was we’re not just throwing money at people. You actually get to know the contestants on this show.
“One of my jobs is getting them to open up about why they need that money. You root for them. The reason people love game shows so much, I think, is we love seeing people win, but we also like seeing them struggle a little bit for it first.”
Shlesinger seems to agonize just as much as the contestants when it gets dicey. She rejoices just as much when they win big.
“I love it when the people win,” she says.
There’s actually very little DNA separating my dog from a throw pillow.
Shlesinger also loves that she gets to share the Separation Anxiety spotlight with her beloved rescue dog Blanche, who chills onstage in her comfy bed while the studio audience hoots and cheers.
“There’s actually very little DNA separating my dog from a throw pillow,” Shlesinger says. “She’s that mellow.”
The dog used to be part of Shlesinger’s act, but not so much these days.
“It wasn’t my idea for her to be part of this show, just like it wasn’t my idea for her to be in the commercial I did [for Hyatt Regency hotels],” Shlesinger says. “In both cases, they asked for Blanche. I agreed because I’m like a proud parent. I want the whole world to see her.
“She is a stunning creature. She’s prettier than I am and she’s definitely got a cleaner belly.”
- 9 p.m. Tuesday